Thursday, October 05, 2006

Elitism, Discrimination and the Curse of Cambridge...

Listening to: 'En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor' by Il Divo [Ancora]

...or "why I don't like to say I'm from Cambridge".

Let me start with a (few) disclaimer(s): I am in no way trying to rub it in your face. I do not think I'm better than you. I do not think that I'm the most privileged individual in the room. I am not some kind of alien who can't carry on a non-intellectual conversation. The fact that I'm a female engineer at Cambridge does not make me a freak.

Now let me ask you a question: do you believe me? Nah, didn't think so. And that, in my opinion, is where the problem lies. Stephen Fry, one of Cambridge's prominent alumni, said this last year:
The best thing about having gone to Cambridge University was never having to deal with not going there.
And essentially, I think that's what's happened. A kind of 'sour grapes' attitude adopted by some unsuccessful applicants has helped immortalise the 'Cambridge Elite' - something that (in my experience) hasn't existed for quite a while. On one hand, the university is trying its level best to appear more accessible to 'target' audiences - ethnic minorities, state schools, kids from broken homes. In the other corner, Cambridge graduates get the following reception when they go out into the 'big bad world' (these are things my friends have been told) -
" it because you're intellectually superior?"
"You're doing quite well at being approachable for someone from Cambridge."
And then of course there's the alpha female syndrome. Let me explain:
  1. Go to party with no other Cambridge people present
  2. Get introduced to Random Guy
  3. Random Guy asks you where you're studying
  4. You say 'Cambridge'
  5. Random Guy's jaw drops - OR - Random Guy makes some sarcastic comment to prove that he's not intimidated (see that's just not convincing enough to me)
  6. Random Guy conveniently finds a way to leave, with you standing by yourself looking like a mutt who can't carry on a conversation
Oh I'm sorry, did you get upset by the fact that I have a higher IQ than Britney Spears? D'oh.

And that's not all. Yesterday I learned the workings of Research Councils in the UK, and how universities get money for research. Bottom line: if the project is from Cambridge, it won't get any funding 'cos "otherwise the other universities will complain that the councils favour Cambridge". I'm sorry, what? What happened to Research Councils rewarding the most worthy projects? What happened to Research Councils aiding research??? I'm disillusioned already. I thought I avoided industry so that it wouldn't be about the money. And now I'm told that if I was doing the same project at a mushroom university, I'd probably get funding because it would 'make the council look good'. Ugh this makes me sick. Everything in this world is a bloody popularity contest.

So yes, hopefully now you understand the Curse of Cambridge. Hopefully now you understand why quite a few Cambridge people are reluctant to tell you which university they're from. Hopefully now you understand why Cambridge seems to be getting much less publicity for 'groundbreaking research' compared with past centuries.

Oh by the way, I passed Stephen Hawking on the corridor at Addenbrooke's Hospital yesterday.


  1. And here I was under the impression "OMG that is soo kool that you are studying at Cambridge".

    You shouldn't have to apologise for being smarter.

  2. I was unmoved till I read that last sentence.

    Stephen Hawking? Damn elitist Cambridge Southerners! Obviously, you are being favoured by ... something.


  3. I have a confession to make, I would probably make a snarky comment about you being a geek...but then thats just me:)...I do however on the flip side like smart girls...In fact behind big eyes, smart and snarky are probably the next closest attributes I look for...I have noticed a weird trend of some smart girls pretending to be dumb because they think it makes em more 'attractive'...

  4. momok: Hehe I thought it was cool too. It still is in a way, but not all that rosy as far as being 'approachable' goes.

    drac: hee hee :D

    N: If the 'geek' comment was amusing, it would be fine - I get called a geek by all my friends so I'm used to it. My point is more along the lines of 'So what if I study? Does that make me any less feminine?' The fact that you like smart girls means that it shouldn't. I can't see why people get so intimidated.

  5. I'm hoping it would be amusing, since I consider myself pretty funny :)...Stephen be more impressed with running into Dawkins though, being the geeky ex-biologist that I am..

  6. i guess it's a similar reaction you would get if u told another doctor u worked at Addenbrookes or the Radcliffe..

    ur obviously not meeting guys with big enough egos to handle the Oxbridge angle :)


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